Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Problem of Evil

Lukeprog over at Common Sense Atheism has made an excellent post on the problem of evil. It's a must read. As for free will, I do not believe we have free will in the same sense that theists do. Theists usually believe in libertarian free will, while I subscribe to Compatibilist Free Will, which is very eloquently described in Freedom Evolves as well as Sense & Goodness Without God.

The bottom line is that our actions are determined by our desires and our knowledge of how to fulfill those desires (as well as our intelligence to calculate from our knowledge the best way to fulfill a desire). Nothing else makes sense. I mean, if we have immaterial souls, how do our souls decide what we do? Does a soul choose to do something based on its priorities? If so, then that's the same thing as compatibilist free will, only instead of a soul, I believe our brain chooses based on what it desires most. If not, then what determines our choices? If nothing determines our choices, then by definition our actions are random and we cannot be held accountable for what we do.

What does this have to do with God? Well, a perfect, all knowing and all powerful God could create people who have completely good desires, thereby eliminating evil caused by the abuse of free will.

Before I finish this post I must address one further point: The charge that compatibilist free will would lead to moral anarchy. The argument is one which you may have already thought of: If we cannot control what desires we have, then how can we hold a criminal responsible. After all, given the same desires, knowledge, intelligence, and situation he would inevitably commit the crime he committed. This is true. But we still must hold him accountable because we want to provide a deterrant for other criminals contemplating doing the same act.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love your post. Your argument is fairly shallow.

God cannot create things that are completely good like himself. It is impossible for God to create an infinite Good. He can only create things that participate in his goodness.

If free will is given, then it becomes obvious that a person can or cannot participate in the goodness of God.

If all choices are driven by our desires, then you have to change almost everyone selfish desires. The only way to do this is by participating in the nature of God.

Christianity opens the door to this participation which is done through the Holy Spirit.

Christianity is the only answer to evil and the problem of evil is really an illusion.

Steven Carr said...

'God cannot create things that are completely good like himself.'

SO Genesis 1 is rubbish when God looked at creation and said it was good?

And Heaven is full of evil angels?

And ,of course, Christians are no more moral than atheists,as has been proven by study after study.

So so much for this bizarre fantasy about 'particiapting in the nature of God'

Unless you mean the child killing god of 2 Samuel 12...

AIGBusted said...

'God cannot create things that are completely good like himself.'

So much for all powerful, huh?

Robert Morane said...

'God cannot create things that are completely good like himself.'

How about Heaven? I thought Heaven was completely good...

AIGBusted said...

'God cannot create things that are completely good like himself.'

According Matthew 12:33, A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. A tree is known by its fruit. So a world like our would demand an evil god. A good god could not possibly have created it, because if he did, it would be a prefect world.

A good god producing a bad world is as impossible as drawing a black line on a pure white piece of paper with pure white paint.

fireballnelson said...

I just have to put in my two cents. This is such a lively argument.

"The bottom line is that our actions are determined by our desires and our knowledge of how to fulfill those desires (as well as our intelligence to calculate from our knowledge the best way to fulfill a desire)"

So we are all just a bunch of animals acting in a completely self-serving way? There is a difference between animals and humans. Humans have a soul and can feel sadness, joy, anger and a whole host of other emotions. Humans can hate and have faith. Indeed, humans can discuss whether there is a God, whether each individual has a soul, or what happens after death. Animals do not do these things.

"...Well, a perfect, all knowing and all powerful God could create people who have completely good desires, thereby eliminating evil caused by the abuse of free will."

A perfect, all knowing, all powerful God can do anything he wants to. Your statement places God in a very small box. You are essentially saying "I know better than God so he doesn't exist". I say, "Prove it".

"But we still must hold him accountable because we want to provide a deterrant for other criminals contemplating doing the same act."

And where do the standards come from? Does everyone have different standards they are allowed to live by? You may have very good standards but the next guy might say it's OK to shoot people and randomly start fires. How can you punish him if there is no standard that applies to everyone? How can we have a universal man-made standard? All men are equal so it follows that no man can make standards that everyone else has to obey. Yo see where this leads?

"According Matthew 12:33, A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. A tree is known by its fruit. So a world like our would demand an evil god. A good god could not possibly have created it, because if he did, it would be a prefect world."

You have taken this verse completely out of context. Jesus was speaking to the pharisees. Basically he was telling them to either be evil or be good but don't try to be both and mislead thousands of people. They were the religious leaders of the day but they were so hypocritical and self-righteous that Jesus called them a "Generation of vipers" (Matthew 12:34)

AIGBusted said...

"So we are all just a bunch of animals acting in a completely self-serving way?"

That is not what I said. I said we all act in a way that we believe will fulfill our desires. Our desires can include the desire to stop someone else from feeling pain or prevent someone else from having a bad experience.

"There is a difference between animals and humans. Humans have a soul and can feel sadness, joy, anger and a whole host of other emotions. Humans can hate and have faith. Indeed, humans can discuss whether there is a God, whether each individual has a soul, or what happens after death. Animals do not do these things."

Yes, human beings have cognitive abilities that far exceed other animals. How is that relevant to the discussion?

"A perfect, all knowing, all powerful God can do anything he wants to. Your statement places God in a very small box. You are essentially saying 'I know better than God so he doesn't exist'. I say, 'Prove it'."

I never said anything about knowing better than God. I said that if an all good, all powerful and all knowing God existed, he would create the best world he possibly could because his desires would be nothing but good. Such a good world would have to include only people with good desires, not rapists or murderers. It could not be otherwise, and if you say it is, you "prove it".

"And where do the standards come from? Does everyone have different standards they are allowed to live by? You may have very good standards but the next guy might say it's OK to shoot people and randomly start fires. How can you punish him if there is no standard that applies to everyone? How can we have a universal man-made standard? All men are equal so it follows that no man can make standards that everyone else has to obey. Yo see where this leads?"

Some actions, like rape, murder, and firesetting, tend to reduce happiness and well-being amongst human beings. There is no question about this. Since our goal as a society is to create a safe, happy environment to live in, we ought to put rapists, murderers, and arsonists in prison because they interfere with our goals as a society.

I've written more about this in my book, "Atheism and Naturalism" available on lulu.com

"You have taken this verse completely out of context."

No I haven't. It says that a good tree will bear good fruit and bad tree won't. The tree is known by its fruit. I've just taken the same metaphor and applied it to a God. Even if the Bible did not say this, you would still have to show how this is wrong: Metaphorically speaking, when can a good tree bear bad fruit? When can a bad tree bear good fruit? Can evil come from good or good from evil?

fireballnelson said...

It would seem we are both in the habit of putting words into each other's mouths.

I can see we will get nowhere arguing on this one but I will say one thing about Matthew 12:33.
This is the verse in context:

(32)And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
(33)Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.
(34)O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.

Note that He is speaking to the pharisees.

To say that God is evil because he produced this world is to misunderstand evil. Evil is anything that is against the will of God. It exists because creatures with free will can choose not to do God's will. Evil has been a part of this Earth since Satan first told Eve that she could be like God.
She had intentions against the will of God and thus evil entered the world. God did not create it, He only defines it.

I know that all sounds a little disconnected but if you can read and understand it, fine. If not, I guess a little deranged rambling never hurt.

AIGBusted said...

"To say that God is evil because he produced this world is to misunderstand evil. Evil is anything that is against the will of God. It exists because creatures with free will can choose not to do God's will. Evil has been a part of this Earth since Satan first told Eve that she could be like God."

So why did God create beings with the desires to do things against his will? He could have created them with desires to only do things in line with his will. That was one of the central points of my post.

fireballnelson said...

"So why did God create beings with the desires to do things against his will? He could have created them with desires to only do things in line with his will. That was one of the central points of my post."

One of the main characteristics of God is his love.
Genesis 1:26 says: "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness..."
To be made in the Image of God is to have the ability to love. If God had created us without a free will we would not have that ability because a person must choose to love.

zbyte said...

So out of love god demands to be worshiped or else spend an eternity in pain? I'm sorry but I don't even wish that on the people I don't love. Does that mean I am more loving then god?

That aside, if there was some logic to what is absolutely good, then why couldn't god have created us with that undeniable logic? Seems to me that children grow up learning the consequences of their actions. However if we were created with the undeniable knowledge of such things then wouldn't we be less likely to turn our back on god and thus more likely to avoid hell? Why wouldn't a loving god simply create us with a greater capacity for reason or an innate understanding of the reasons behind what is good?

The argument that one could not create something with equal fitness to itself is contrary to biology.

fireballnelson said...

"So out of love god demands to be worshiped or else spend an eternity in pain?"

That is the result of sin. It is also why Jesus died and rose again: So that we wouldn't have to spend eternity in Hell.

"That aside, if there was some logic to what is absolutely good, then why couldn't god have created us with that undeniable logic? Seems to me that children grow up learning the consequences of their actions. However if we were created with the undeniable knowledge of such things then wouldn't we be less likely to turn our back on god and thus more likely to avoid hell? Why wouldn't a loving god simply create us with a greater capacity for reason or an innate understanding of the reasons behind what is good?"

That is a great question and I am not afraid to admit that I am stumped. The best answer I can give is that he created us the way he wanted and we cannot fully understand his reasons. Yes, I know that is a pretty flimsy argument. But if you are really interested why not read the Bible?
It is the most popular book ever written.

Steven Carr said...

'You may have very good standards but the next guy might say it's OK to shoot people and randomly start fires. How can you punish him if there is no standard that applies to everyone? How can we have a universal man-made standard?'

CARR
That is interesting.

One football coach may prefer a running play.

Another football coach likes pass plays.

So what is the best play is subjective. There is no universal standard of what is the best play.

So how can you sack a coach who orders his quarterback to fumble the ball on every play?

There is no standard which applies to everyone, and says 'you must run the ball here, you must pass the ball there.'

So if the coach wants his team to take a safety on every play, how can you fire him, unless you can say what the objectively best football plays are on every play?

Which you can't because there is no objective standard to say which play is the best. Football plays are a matter of opinion.

Why is Christian logic so bad that you start to laugh out loud when you apply Christian 'logic' to the real world?

fireballnelson said...

Which you can't because there is no objective standard to say which play is the best. Football plays are a matter of opinion.

No, they are a matter of "what are the rules?" and "what is the best possible way to win while playing within the rules?"

Why is Christian logic so bad that you start to laugh out loud when you apply Christian 'logic' to the real world?

If football is your real world then you have problems. That aside, there are rules for football and there is a goal to achieve in the game: WIN. If you don't follow the rules you are eventually disqualified. If you fumble the ball on every play you will not WIN.
In life, people have different goals. Some people believe that life is all there is so they go out partying every night and have as much fun and pleasure as possible. Others believe that education is the meaning of life so they study for eight hours a day. Needless to say, these different people have different standards that they live their lives by. These standards were manufactured by themselves and since they were not created by God, they are wrong.

As for the laughing, I dunno. Maybe your computer is emitting Nitrous Oxide somehow...

Steven Carr said...

FIREBALLNELSON
No, they are a matter of "what are the rules?" and "what is the best possible way to win while playing within the rules?"


CARR
So you claim that there is a rule which prevents coaches telling quarterbacks to fumbe the ball?

And that there is a 'best possible way to win'?

OK,what is the 'best possible way to win' in football?

And if you can't tell me, then how can you criticise coaches who tell the quarterback to fumble the ball on every play - something that is allowed by the rules?

After all,if plays are subjective, then bad plays cannot be criticised....

NELSON
If you don't follow the rules you are eventually disqualified. If you fumble the ball on every play you will not WIN.

CARR
Of course,Nelson is right. That is the whole point of my analogy.

We don't need a god to tell us not to fumble the ball on every play.

And we don't need a god to tell us that if we murder and rape people then we will face the wrath of our fellow mankind.

Just as a coach who tells his quarterback to fumble the ball on every play will face the wrath of the crowd and the owner.

Football plays are subjective, but there are still good and bad plays.

Nelson knows this, and agrees with it.

So even if morality was subjective, there would still be good and bad morals.

Jesse said...

God did not create evil. He did create all things good. Lucifer the angel was good. He was given free will. Somehow he lost his good. Evil is like temperature. Cold is a loss of heat. So he lost some of his good to become evil. And because humans have freewill they were able to be tempted by Satan. Now why would God give us free will if we would just disobey? The reason is because if we were controlled like, lets say, a robot of some sort we would not love him. He made us so he could be loved and worshiped. The only way to love is to have freewill. Therefore God does not have to be an evil God in order to make us.